Comment »Posted on Tuesday 2 December 2008 at 8:52 pm by Jacob Aron
In Musings

What do you think we spend on science? Not just in the UK, but the whole world. People often complain about scientific expenditure, especially on grand projects such as the Large Hadron Collider and the International Space Station, asking whether the money could be better spent elsewhere.

It turns out that science actually costs very little, especially when you consider how much it contributes to our everyday lives. According to an article in Seed magazine, the world’s nations spend only an average 2.3% of their GDP on scientific research.

The exact figure is $994,424,038,000, or roughly one trillion dollars (no Dr. Evil jokes, please) per year worldwide. Unsurprisingly, the US contributes the most with $343,747,500,000, whilst the country that spends the largest percentage of GDP is Sweden – and even that is only 3.82%.

Now, one trillion dollars might sound like a lot to you and me, but let’s but that into perspective. To date, the Iraq War has cost the US around $576,262,000,000. We’re about 5 years in now, so it seems that America spends the equivalent of a third of its yearly science budget on just one conflict. And of course, who can forget the recent $700,000,000,000 bailout paid to US bankers – that’s nearly three-quarters of year’s worth of worldwide science!

If we calculate the cost per head, it works out around $150 a year for every person on the planet. Obviously this is quite a large sum for many people in the world, and I don’t mean to imply that this money is being taken from those less fortunate – clearly the economic cost is shared mostly by the more affluent nations. Using the figure as an illustration however, $150 a year is about 41 cents a day.

I’d say that is an absolute bargain price for everything science provides for us. So, the next time someone complains about expensive science, remind them that they’re actually getting quite a good deal!


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